The Legal Services Board has approved the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s controversial proposals to allow solicitors to freelance and offer paid-for legal services through any business as part of its ‘Looking to the Future’ reforms. The approval came in the face of opposition from the Law Society who called the decision ‘a serious error’.
According to the LSB, the ‘majority’ of representations it received expressed concern about two proposals: allowing regulated solicitors to practise from unregulated firms and allowing a new category of ‘freelance’ solicitor. However the LSB decided that concerns about freelancers ‘did not raise grounds for refusal’. In relation to the proposal to allow solicitors to practise from unregulated firms, the regulator noted that whilst accepting that reform might present ‘some risk’, there were ‘potential benefits’ including that it could ‘promote access to justice’.
‘We recognise that one aspect of this package – the changes to permit solicitors to provide unreserved legal services from unregulated firms – presents some potential risks,’ commented LSB chair, Dr Helen Phillips. ‘The Board’s view was that when set against the potential benefits that the proposal is likely to bring to the regulatory objectives as a whole, these risks do not create compelling grounds for refusing the proposal.’
‘In addition to likely benefits to access to justice, promoting competition and the public interest, we considered that there was some merit in the SRA’s argument that these changes could be seen to increase consumer protection, given that many consumers already use unregulated providers and in doing so receive no regulatory protections.’
Dr Helen Phillips, LSB
The Law Society’s president Christina Blacklaws argued that regulators had ‘sacrificed the best interests of the public they exist to protect’. ‘This ill-conceived scheme creates an overly complex marketplace for legal services, jeopardising the public interest and the rule of law under the guise of driving access to justice,’ she said. Yet there is no evidence deregulation will achieve this. On the contrary, the most vulnerable are the most likely to fall foul of a less-shackled marketplace for legal services.
The door was ‘now open for practitioners to cut their costs by slashing essential client protections that until today have provided cast-iron reassurance for clients’.
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